A bad case of the ‘nineties

The 1990s featured two significant upheavals in global financial markets. First, 1990 saw the Nikkei collapse from its high of 39000, reaching an eventual low of 7000 in 2008.

Nikkei 225 Index

The collapse followed strong appreciation of the Yen after the September 1985 Plaza Accord and the ensuing October 1987 global stock market crash. The Plaza Accord attempted to curtail long-term currency manipulation by Japan who had built up foreign reserves — mainly through purchases of US Treasuries — to suppress appreciation of the Yen against the Dollar and maintain a current account surplus.

Seven years later, collapsing currencies during the 1997 Asian financial crisis destroyed fast-growing economies — with Thailand, South Korea and Indonesia experiencing 40%, 34% and 83% falls in (1998) GNP respectively — and eventually led to the 1998 Russian default and break up of the Soviet Union. Earlier, rapidly growing exports with currencies pegged to the Dollar brought a flood of offshore investment and easy credit into the Asian tigers. Attempts by the IMF to impose discipline and a string of bankruptcies spooked investors into a stampede for the exits. Falling exchange rates caused by the stampede led to a further spate of bankruptcies as domestic values of dollar-denominated debt skyrocketed. Attempts by central banks to shore up their currencies through raising interest rates failed to stem the outflow and further exacerbated the disaster, causing even more bankruptcies, with borrowers unable to meet higher interest charges.

What we are witnessing is a repeat of the nineties. This time it was China that attempted to ride the dragon, pegging its currency against the Dollar and amassing vast foreign reserves in order to suppress appreciation of the Yuan and boost exports. The Chinese economy benefited enormously from the vast trade surplus with the US, but those who live by the dragon die by the dragon. Restrictions on capital inflows into China may dampen the reaction, compared to the 1997 crisis, but are unlikely to negate it. The market will have its way.

Financial markets in the West are cushioned by floating exchange rates which act as an important shock-absorber against fluctuations in financial markets. The S&P 500 fell 13.5% in 1990 but only 3.5% in October 1997. The ensuing collapse of the ruble and failure of LTCM, however, caused another fall of 9.0% a year later. Not exactly a crisis, but unpleasant all the same.

North America

The domestic US economy slowed in the past few months but increased spending on light motor vehicles and housing suggested that robust employment growth would continue. Upheaval in financial markets (and exports) now appears likely to negate this, leading to a global market down-turn.

The S&P 500 breached primary support at 1980, signaling a primary down-trend. The index has fallen 4.5% from its earlier high and presents a medium-term target of 1830*. Decline of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow below zero would confirm the signal but descent has been gradual, suggesting medium-rather than long-term selling pressure.

S&P 500 Index

* Target calculation: 1980 + ( 2130 – 1980 ) = 1830

The CBOE Volatility Index (VIX) spiked upwards indicating rising market risk.

S&P 500 VIX

Bellwether transport stock Fedex broke primary support at $164, confirming the primary down-trend signaled by 13-week Twiggs Money Flow reversal below zero. The fall warns of declining economic activity.

Fedex

Canada’s TSX 60 broke primary support at 800, confirming the earlier bear signal from 13-week Twiggs Momentum reversal below zero. Target for a decline is 700*.

TSX 60 Index

* Target calculation: 800 – ( 900 – 800 ) = 700

Europe selling

Germany’s DAX broke medium-term support at 10700. Expect further medium-term support at 10000 but reversal of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow below zero warns of selling pressure. Breach of 10000 would indicate a test of primary support at 9000.

DAX

* Target calculation: 10700 – ( 11800 – 10700 ) = 9600

The Footsie broke 6450, signaling a test of primary support at 6100. Reversal of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow below zero warns of (long-term) selling pressure. Breach of 6100 would offer a target of 5000**.

FTSE 100

* Target calculation: 6450 – ( 6800 – 6450 ) = 6100 **Long-term: 6000 – ( 7000 – 6000 ) = 5000

Asia

The Shanghai Composite reflects artificial, state-backed support at 3500. Declining 13-week Twiggs Money Flow warns of long-term selling pressure. Withdrawal of government support is unlikely, but breach of 3400/3500 would cause a nineties-style collapse in stock prices.

Shanghai Composite Index

* Target calculation: 4000 – ( 5000 – 4000 ) = 3000

Japan’s Nikkei 225 appears headed for a test of 19000. Breach would test primary support at 17000 but, given the scale of BOJ easing, respect is as likely and would indicate further consolidation between 19000 and 21000. Gradual decline of 13-week Twiggs Money Flow suggests medium-term selling pressure.

Nikkei 225 Index

* Target calculation: 21000 + ( 21000 – 19000 ) = 23000

India’s Sensex is holding up well, with rising 13-week Twiggs Money Flow signaling medium-term buying pressure. Breakout above 28500 is unlikely but would indicate another test of 30000. Decline below 27000 would warn of a primary down-trend; confirmed if there is follow-through below 26500.

SENSEX

Australia

Commodity-rich Australian stocks are exposed to China and emerging markets. The only protection is the floating exchange rate which is likely to adjust downward to absorb the shock — as it did during the 1997 Asian crisis. 13-Week Twiggs Money Flow below zero warns of (long-term) selling pressure on the ASX 200. Breach of support at 5150 is likely and would confirm a primary down-trend. Long-term target for the decline is 4400*. Respect of primary support is unlikely, but would indicate consolidation above the support level rather than a rally.

ASX 200